Fromagerie Au Fond des Bois-Telegraph Journal

Le jeudi, janvier 30 2014

Ce poste est relié à Fromagerie Au Fond des bois

Belgian expat proves where there’s a will, there’s a whey

Dream: Couple buys farm, cheese-making business; learn as they turn in into success

Michael Woloschuk
At Liberty
Telegraph Journal Monday, Januray 27, 2014

EAST BRANCH. N.B. – No one can ever accuse Didier Laurent of being afraid of trying new things.

Above the counter where the recently transplanted Belgian is pouring coffee, a homemade ham dangles from a hook in the ceiling. Laurent takes a sip of his coffee and sizes up the smoked pork leg. “I never made a ham in my life” he says. “But I made that one.”

In a bam a few hundred metres away, 200 goats provide milk that Laurent makes into cheese – a process he knew nothing about until he bought the farm and cheese-making business about 18 months ago. Now Laurent and his wife, Joanne, proud owners of Fromagerie Au Fond des Bois, process about 6,000 litres of goat milk a month and sell their home-made cheese and yogurt – as well as milk – at the Fredericton, Dieppe and Kingston markets.

Their products are also available at about 10 restaurants and small grocery stores in New Brunswick.
“When I bought this farm, I didn’t know anything about making cheese” says Laurent, who was born in the Republic of Congo but grew up in BaisyThy, a small town in Belgium. “I taught myself to take care of the goats and to make the cheese.”

In Belgium, he worked as the personal maître d’hôtel to King Albert 11, the Belgian monarch who abdicated in 2013. Laurent’s functions included organizing banquets for upwards of a thousand guests at the Royal Palace in Brussels.

Although it might seem like a dream job to some, it was less than ideal for Laurent. As a child, he was a fan of nature documentaries and developed a lasting fascination for the Canadian wildemess. Two years ago, he spotted an advertisement on the Internet for a goat farm and cheese-making business in East Branch, just outside Rexton.

“I wanted to buy a farm in Canada he says. “At first I looked in Quebec but didn’t like it. Then I saw this farm on the Internet, and I came to visit and liked it.”

Coincidentally, the farm and business was being sold by Patrick Henderson, a fellow Belgian expat who traded a career in Europe for the natural beauty of rural New Brunswick. Henderson and his wife moved to New Brunswick in 2005 and quickly ran into trouble when applying for a licence to make goat cheese. Henderson
lost thousands of dollars and jumped through innumerable bureaucratic hoops, with one provincial inspector famously telling the couple that New Brunswickers like only one cheese.

“An inspector told us, here you are not welcome, because here people eat cheddar; we don’t need your goat cheese Henderson told Brunswick News.

Undeterred by Henderson’s experience in New Brunswick, Laurent, who knew nothing about cheese making and even less about goats, decided to give the venture a shot. Armed with some of Henderson’s cheese recipes, Laurent rolled up his sleeves and went to work. Goat husbandry was the first thing he learned. Working seven days a week, from before dawn to well past sunset, he fed and cared for the goats when they were sick, teaching himself basic veterinarian skills such as how to administer vaccinations to the animals.

A lot of his new skills were learned via the Internet, but some help came from neighbours and farmers in the area. Laurent learned that despite being a largely automated process, goat milking is a highly variable activity. The amount of milk varies widely, depending on such things as how calm or stressed the animals are.

Soon Laurent was making cheese – some successful, some less so. “About half the recipes are from the previous owner and the other half he made up himself,” says Joanne. “His recipes are the result of trial and error. What’s great is that people like his cheeses better than the original recipes.”

Laurent makes 28 different cheeses and yogurt products, including a tomme, a semi-soft cheese with a Parmesan-like taste, a Boursin-type cheese that is soft and creamy, and yet another that is mild like Philadelphia cheese.

In April, Laurent will bring his Fromagerie Au Fond des Bois to the Toronto Wine and Cheese Show, in the hopes of taking home top honours as maker of the nations best cheese.

“And you know what? We’re going to win,” says Joanne, not even attempting to hide her confidence in Laurent’s cheese.

All 200 of his goats are pregnant, and he expects to add about 150 kids to the herd, almost doubling production next year. The problem with raising goats for milk is what to do with the billies, or the males. Goats typically give birth to twins or even triplets, so males will invariably be born.

Because North Americans have developed a taste for goat cheese but don’t eat goat meat, there is a glut of male goats across the continent.

“Goat meat is not popular,” Laurent agrees. “Although I heard it’s catching
on in Quebec.”
Laurent, who operates the farm almost singlehandedly, concentrates his resources on raising female goats. With $5,000 a month in feed bills, it’s no wonder he is focused right now on developing females who will yield even higher amounts of milk daily.

He has plans to expand Fromagerie Au Fond des Bois across Canada and will begin venturing into Quebec later this year. This means hiring a few farm hands so he can work on marketing.

“But we’re not looking to sell to Sobeys or places like that for now”- says Joanne. “We want this to remain a relatively small, home-made operation.”

No matter how much the cheese business grows, however, Laurent and Joanne vow that they would never leave New Brunswick.

“Oh no, I would never leave,” Laurent says.

“He thought about going to Quebec, but we really like the place here” says Joanne, who hails from La Belle Province herself.

Laurent and his wife speak about their love for New Brunswick at a table in their sun-filled kitchen, which overlooks a scene of quiet pastoral beauty. Through a picture window, the branches of some dark green pines are laden with snow and line the frozen St. Nicholas River nearby.

“In Quebec, you can’t find a place like his.”

Michael Woloschuk
Contributing editor at Brunswick News

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